Tiffin Motorhomes' entry-level diesel pusher offers numerous innovations for 2006, combined with the company's traditional attention to detail.
By Lazelle Jones
Bob Tiffin, founder and CEO of Tiffin Motorhomes, has several passions; among them are restoring classic automobiles and building quality motorhomes. A perfect bridge between the two is the Phaeton motorhome, named after a luxury touring car that was built for several decades beginning around the turn of the 20th century. Introduced in 2001, the Tiffin Phaeton ranks as the company's "entry-level" luxury diesel pusher.
The Phaeton was created in response to a progression of events that involved the success of the company's former entry-level diesel, the Allegro Bus. As Tiffin Motorhomes added an increasing number of appointments to the Allegro Bus, its price tag climbed likewise. As a result, company officials determined that an emerging market existed for a new, lower-priced product. And similar to the Allegro Bus when it debuted, the Phaeton was unveiled as a completely new line, equipped with all the enhancements associated with the luxury motorhome lifestyle.
I tested the 40-foot Phaeton QDH, which has a manufacturer's base suggested retail price of $208,040, and, as equipped, a total price of $218,869. Bob Tiffin said he believes that the Phaeton is offered with a price tag a full $25,000 to $30,000 less than that of similar coaches on the market today.
The Phaeton is offered with two, three, or four slideouts and in lengths that range from 35 feet to 40 feet. During a recent visit to Red Bay, Alabama, which Tiffin Motorhomes has called home since 1972, my wife and I picked up the test coach and commenced traveling.
Like the other diesel-powered motorhomes produced by Tiffin — Allegro Bus and Zephyr — the Phaeton is built on a Freightliner XC chassis. My 40-foot QDH was powered by a 350-horsepower 7.2-liter C7 Caterpillar turbodiesel engine. It develops 860 pound-feet of torque and is tied to an Allison 3000 MH six-speed transmission.
This coach has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 32,000 pounds and is designed to tow another 10,000 pounds. My test coach weighed 27,620 pounds with a full tank of fuel (100 gallons) and a full fresh water tank (90 gallons). This left 4,380 pounds for cargo and passengers — impressive, in my book.
I found the coach to be responsive and very stable when braking. It has a single-stage engine brake, plus air disc brakes all the way around. By touching a button on the left-hand console, the driver can personalize the brake and accelerator pedals to his or her specific body dimensions. The instrumentation has been kept simple. All of the operating data that is required is right there, easily seen and understood.
The Phaeton's big 266-inch wheelbase yields a limousine-type feel and ride. The Goodyear R275 tires (as opposed to R255 tires) mean that more rubber meets the road.
The comfort in ride and the excellent road manners this coach demonstrated during my test outing are directly attributable to several key components of the Freightliner suspension system. First is the air-ride system. This is the essence of the Phaeton's excellent handling characteristics. It employs four large (11-inch-diameter) high-volume, low-pressure air bags that are positioned directly above the chassis rails, one at each corner of the coach. Each air bag is augmented by a Sachs shock absorber that is tuned specifically for the model for which it is being used and its position on the coach (left front, right front, etc.). Sway bars contribute to the Phaeton's stability by controlling and modulating lateral motions. The XC chassis also features what Freightliner calls no-bump steering, where the bell crank is not attached directly to the steering shaft. This means that road-generated trauma is not transmitted up through the steering column to the driver, so that driving fatigue is minimized.
Tiffin Motorhomes officials like to underscore the standard features that are the signature of the Phaeton. One is its massive single-piece (no center post) windshield, which was introduced in the 2005 model. We found the look appealing and the unobstructed visibility it affords exceptional.
2006 Tiffin Phaeton interiorStandard equipment includes a Sony color video monitor that, along with the heated split power mirror system, does an excellent job at providing enough visual information to make a driver feel confident. Be it motoring forward, moving in reverse, turning corners in urban settings, or changing lanes out on the highway, the Phaeton is easily managed.
Amenities in the cockpit yield driver comforts that seem aimed at preventing fatigue. Optional power windshield visors move up or down at the touch of a switch. A new option for 2006 are pull-down sun shades, one to the left of the driver and one to the right of the passenger. I did note that the shades on my test unit exhibited a very tight spring action. They might rewind too quickly if the user accidentally lets go of them when pulling them down.
Also new for 2006 is what could be characterized as a "smart wheel" steering wheel. Like the ones in luxury automobiles, the face of this steering wheel has volume and station selection controls for the AM-FM dash-mounted radio. From a practical and safety standpoint, this is a very good feature, for it minimizes having to take one's eyes off the road to fiddle around with the radio. Sirius Satellite Radio has been added as an option for the 2006 model year as well.
Another new standard feature is a dash fold-out tray that sits directly in front of the passenger seat. Between the seats in the cockpit is a handcrafted wood center console created by the same skilled Tiffin craftsmen who fashion all the cabinetry in the coach. This console includes two drawers (over and under) and two cup holders. Another (fold-down) cup holder is mounted on the wall to the left of the driver; it may be handy, but because it rests above a control panel with several electrical switches, I can see that some problems might occur if a drink were spilled there.
Several wood décor choices are available for the 2006 Phaeton, including a new option called Cherry Bark, which my test coach featured. Other choices include oak and natural maple. The interior décor groups offered are called Bronze, Spa, and Tuxedo.
The day-night pull-down shades that are found throughout the coach required more effort to raise and lower than we would have liked. Perhaps the tension can be relaxed a little so these movements are less stiff.
2006 Tiffin Phaeton interior features full-extension drawer slides.The 2006 model offers a flooring option that is visually pleasing as well as functional. Customers can select attractive, low-maintenance ceramic tile that runs from the entry landing through the center of the living area up to the galley.
Tiffin officials also like to call attention to the full-extension drawer slides that are used throughout the coach. The last four inches of the drawers that would otherwise remain inside the cabinet (when the drawer is extended) can be pulled completely out, making everything inside the drawer fully accessible.
A neat new galley feature I've not seen in other motorhomes is incorporated in all 40-foot Phaeton models: a pull-out countertop and cabinet that creates a massive L-shaped galley called an Extenda-Island. The island features a solid-surface countertop and a stack of three large roll-out drawers below. The Extenda-Island (as with all roll-out drawers in the Phaeton) is designed with added structural members inside the cabinet and at the back of the drawer for reinforcement and strength when each drawer is pulled completely open. The only downside I could see to this is that you might want to use lighter-weight items to avoid a problem when the drawer is fully open.
Our test coach featured the optional Select Comfort Sleep Number bed. Each side of the king-size bed has its own controls, enabling an individual to dial in the exact amount of firmness or softness he or she needs to get a good night's rest. We can attest that the mattress was a great sleep aid.
In the living area, another new option being offered is a Euro recliner with a computer desk. The living area comes with a standard 24-inch flat-panel TV, and the entire coach has a built-in theater surround-sound system. All speakers are hidden behind fabric inserts inside the cabinets. Other standard features include a CD-DVD-AM/FM radio.
The ceramic tile floor in the galley goes right on through the back area as well. The bathroom is split by the aisle, with a shower/tub on the street side and a sink and commode across from it on the curb side. The glass shower door is frosted in a pattern that resembles rain; this provides privacy and also hides water stains. Yet another sink and vanity are situated in the rear bedroom.
2006 Tiffin Phaeton interiorThe back bedroom wall is occupied by a cavernous closet, and even more storage is available in the curbside cabinet across from the foot of the bed. This cabinet is topped by a 24-inch flat-panel television and is located in a slideout, as is the head of the bed — on the street side — and next to it is a shirt closet with drawers.
The exterior of the Phaeton also boasts some items that are new for 2006. One is an optional low-profile automatic satellite dish. With this feature, the tops of the roof air conditioners (rather than the top of the satellite dome) are the highest points on the roof. An especially neat design change is a new drain system that directs the condensation from the roof air conditioners down through plumbed exits in the walls, so that the water drains out underneath the coach — and doesn't stain the exterior.
Another exterior design change is the use of café doors on the cargo bays. These bay doors swing open and to the side, rather than upward, facilitating access. Tiffin engineers explained that a great deal of attention has been paid to designing these doors, both for strength and for their high insulation values.
A full 80 percent of the optional slideout tray in the basement cargo bay can be accessed, and not on just one side of the coach, but on both sides. Items stowed anywhere on the tray can truly be reached from either side. This is an excellent feature.
Atwood automatic electric leveling jacks are now standard equipment on the Phaeton. Simply touch the auto level key on the touch pad, and the coach is quickly leveled. Other new standard items include a manual entry door awning and an extra Fan-Tastic Vent fan. New graphics patterns are available, too, and full body paint is included.
On the slideouts, the exterior trim has been removed, which means that the slideout fits almost flush with the exterior wall when the slide is retracted. But equally important, by removing this trim, Tiffin's designers have been able to add almost two inches of height to the cargo bay doors, which makes gaining access to gear stored inside the basement compartments easier than ever before.
The slideout mechanisms also have been improved for 2006. Three of the four slideouts on my test coach were above-the-floor slideouts, meaning that no exposed arms were visible underneath when they were extended. This is one of the benefits of the electric slideout — and another reason the bay doors can be made taller. In the case of slideouts with a flat-floor design (one of the two rear bedroom slideouts was so configured), a hydraulic mechanism is used to extend the slideout and position it so that it is flush with the floor. It also provides the power necessary to push the slide back up and inside the coach when the slideout is retracted.
Buyers can choose an optional exterior entertainment center that includes a 24-inch TV, with or without a CD player, an AM-FM radio, and an in-motion satellite system. Aluminum wheels are available, too.
2006 Tiffin Phaeton: slideout tray in basement cargo bayElectrical service on the Phaeton includes a 7.5-kilowatt Onan Quiet Diesel generator and a standard 2,000-watt inverter. Two heat pumps, each delivering 15,000-Btus of air conditioning, cool the coach; they also each deliver 11,000 Btus of heating, which is ducted through a central plenum to adjustable registers that lace the ceiling front to rear. The coach is heated by two 30,000-Btu LP-gas-powered furnaces.
Tiffin uses preformed bead foam ducts that are dressed with AMACO board, a feature that provides additional insulation, as well as a smooth surface (no seams). The lined ducts won't absorb moisture, thus thwarting the development of mildew.
Tiffin's manufacturing process is worth a look. First, the company builds its own dual-pane windows, except for the emergency escape window that it buys from Hehr, which also is dual-pane. Tiffin's windows are filled with argon gas, which is said to provide extra insulation and to prevent the windows from expanding and contracting with changing temperatures. This also keeps the seals from being pulled down into the window when the coach is at higher elevations.
Part of the window construction process involves pulling a vacuum on each window and then drawing out all of the air. Then the vacuum is filled with argon gas. Next a polypropylene thermal barrier is put around each window to prevent it from "sweating" when the motorhome is taken into cold country.
Tiffin uses a Hydravac lamination process, which pulls a vacuum on walls during the lamination process. Lesser vacuum is used, but it is held for a longer period of time, with significant results. Tiffin officials explain it this way: If you take a Styrofoam cup and squeeze it too hard, you leave an impression of your fingers in the cup. The same is true with a vacuum-laminated wall. Pull too much vacuum, and the bead foam insulation inside is imprinted with the shapes of the studs. With the Hydravac process, telegraphing or ghost images of the aluminum structural members (studs in the sidewalls) below the fiberglass exterior do not occur.
Tiffin also employs another technique when building the walls. Instead of cutting individual pieces of bead foam insulation and shoving them in between the studs in the wall, sheets of bead foam insulation are routed so that 1/4-inch of this insulation is laid between the stud and the fiberglass exterior, as well as in between the studs. This acts as a thermal barrier, and prevents condensation from collecting on the exterior surface of the fiberglass (outlining the studs below).
Tiffin motorhomes receive their seven-step full-body paint job at a facility in Belmont, Mississippi. First, the fiberglass exterior is hand-sanded. Next comes the base color, which is then color sanded and followed by a second base coat application and another color sanding. After that comes the first set of graphics, followed by color sanding and then the second and third layer of graphics (with color sanding in between each of those). Two layers of clear coat with ultraviolet protection are then applied.
A 3M clear plastic coating is applied to the front of the coach to protect it from bugs and road debris. The coating also is put on the step level in the main entryway, where the toes of shoes and boots often inflict damage to the paint, and around the entry door lock, to protect the paint from scratches.
The base suggested retail price of the 2006 Phaeton 40 QDH is $208,040. With the following options, my test coach came to $218,869: Cherry Bark interior; aluminum wheels; exterior slide tray; Hadley air horns; window awning package; chrome mirrors; Sirius Satellite Radio; side visors; power sun visors; ceramic tile floor; Ultraleather hide-a-bed; king-size bed; automatic satellite dish.
For more than 30 years, Tiffin Motorhomes has built excellent coaches. The Phaeton is just one more example in this long tradition.
Manufacturer … Tiffin Motorhomes Inc., 105 Second St. N.W., Red Bay, AL 35582; (256) 356-8661; fax (256) 356-9742; www.tiffinmotorhomes.com
Model tested ... 2006 Phaeton
Floor Plan ... 40 QDH
Chassis ... Freightliner XC Series
Engine ... Caterpillar C7 7.2-liter electronic diesel; 350 horsepower @ 2,400 rpm; 860 pound-feet torque @ 1,440 rpm
Transmission ... Allison 3000 MH six-speed automatic
Axle ratio ... 4.78:1
Tires ... Goodyear 275/80R 22.5
Wheelbase ... 266 inches
Brakes ... full air brakes with ABS
Suspension ... Neway full air ride, front and rear with Sachs shocks
Alternator ... 160 amps
Batteries ... house — (4) 6-volt deep-cycle; chassis — (2) 760-cca maintenance-free
Steering ... TRW with 50-degree wheel cut
Electrical service ... 50 amps
Auxiliary generator ... 7.5-kilowatt Onan Quiet Diesel
Inverter ... 2,000-watt
Exterior width ... 101 inches
Exterior height ... 12 feet 7 inches
Interior height ... 7 feet
Exterior length ... 40 feet 5 inches
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 42,000 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 32,000 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front — 12,000 pounds; rear — 20,000 pounds
Wet weight as tested ... front — 10,140 pounds; rear — 17,740 pounds; total — 27,620 pounds
Payload ... 4,380 pounds
Frame construction ... tubular aluminum sidewalls, tubular steel floor and roof
Insulation ... Styrofoam
Fresh water capacity ... 90 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water, 70 gallons; black water, 45 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 100 gallons
Fuel requirements ... diesel
Propane capacity ... 35 gallons
Water heater ... 10 gallons, electric/LP gas
Water delivery system ... demand, 12-volt pump
Furnace ... (2) 30,000-Btu ducted
Air conditioner ... (2) 15,000-Btu with heat pump (low-profile)
Refrigerator ... four-door Norcold with ice maker
Toilet ... Thetford
Warranty ... 10 years unitized construction, 5 years lamination, 1 year on remainder; 3 years/50,000 miles chassis; 5 years/200,000 miles engine/transmission
Base price (MSRP) ... $208,040
Price as tested (MSRP) ... $218,869